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Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest
by Wade Davis
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars In the context of their day, 3 Mar 2013
The great gift of this book is the author's ability to see his historical characters and their world as they saw themselves: to put himself (and his readers) into the mindset of British India in the nineteenth century and then, say, of the restless rebellion of the Bloomsbury set preceding the Great War, without hindsight, without patronising and without interposing a modern world-view on either. It's a long time since I've read a history book, or even historical novel, that produced that instant sense of recognition: these are the perceptions familiar from actual novels and newspaper articles of the time - the way the Victorians and Edwardians thought, their aims and aspirations and beliefs.

The history of the early attempts to climb Mount Everest spans a wide era in which the world changed very much, and the young officers and explorers who first conceived that ambition were the aging seniors of the mountaineering world by the time that Mallory was proposed for the first Everest expedition of the 1920s. It is Wade Davis's talent to evoke both views on their own merits; indeed, the evocation of the early explorations and mapping, of which I knew nothing, was just as fascinating as the much-covered 1924 expedition, and like the rest of the book provides a valuable sense of context. These were men using the latest exciting technology (they even set out to film the ascent for posterity with customised cine-camera equipment) and learning from previous mistakes and discoveries - not primitive amateurs, but explorers on the cusp of conquest in a world where there was no such concept as a 'professional' climber.

In a world without radio, let alone mobile phones, where diaries and private letters were sacrosanct, Wade Davis has evoked expedition members' frank contemporary opinions of their companions and of events, again with understanding of the past history that formed each man's perception and without the temptation to take sides. The one bias that is apparent, to my slight amusement, is his stout championing of his colonial compatriot, the enterprising Canadian surveyor Wheeler - a type whom the author evidently feels to have been unfairly overlooked in the annals of Everest literature - and he certainly makes a good case for Wheeler's professional achievements.

It is unsurprising that it took ten years to write this book: the amount of research involved and the breadth of era and of subjects covered is breathtaking. It is also beautifully written; the book is evocative and sometimes vividly poetic in style without being heavy going. However, the sheer amount of detail can be overwhelming. Particularly in the chapters concerning the War, where the author switches between the life stories of a dozen or more characters who will eventually join one or more Everest expeditions but who are not yet familiar names to the uninitiated, I found myself leafing back to half-remembered earlier passages to try to remember who exactly was who and which story was which.

The long writing-time also had another unanticipated side-effect: the discovery of George Mallory's body before the book was complete, necessitating what feels like the hurried addition of a final chapter on the updated mystery. There doesn't appear to have been nearly as much research done on this section as on the rest (for example, the fallacy that Mallory and Irvine had no stove and hence no drinking water at Camp 6 - the cooker that had been lost was the one at Camp 5) and it does have the air of a hasty addendum, something of a disappointment after the quality of the rest of the book.

But the strength of Wade Davis's achievement is not in his account of Mallory's last few days, a much-discussed subject arguably done to death elsewhere. It is in his monumental endeavour to set those days in context; the Great War that shaped a generation (and to whom the generation of Sandy Irvine represented new hope), the vast distances covered in the exploration/surveying effort of 1921, a world where even the various plants and animals of the region were unknown to science, and where every step carved into the ice was a venture into the unknown.

Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture-style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques
Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture-style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques
by Gretchen Hirsch
Edition: Hardcover-spiral
Price: 14.95

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weak on technique reference, 5 Jan 2013
I had to wait 3 months for my local bookshop to have the copy of the book I'd ordered shipped over from America, which may have coloured my feelings about it... but I'm not sure it's really what I wanted. Part of the big selling point was supposed to be the special line of patterns included in the binding, and I knew before I ordered that I was never going to be terribly interested in those: I've got a backlog of real vintage patterns in styles that I actually like, while I don't favour Gertie's close-fitting sheath dresses/skirts. And I've already got instructions for sewing techniques of the era: I don't need encouraging into 'vintage sewing' because having originally learned from second-hand books I never had any serger/fleece/knits/overlocker shortcuts in my repertoire to unlearn in the first place!

So I was really buying the book in the hopes of having the various directions in my assortment of elderly sewing texts assembled in one place in an easy-to-access and illustrated format, expecting the level of description that Gertie gives on her blog: any other useful elements would be a bonus. Unfortunately, as a previous reviewer points out, this is the weakest part of the book. The written directions for specific techniques are, in the absence of detailed illustration (there is generally only one general photo given), no more helpful than the very similar paragraphs in the period sewing books I already have... useful as an aide-memoire for someone who has previously learnt the technique, but hard to visualise in the abstract. See the minimal instructions for inserting a lapped zip, for example - a subject Gertie earlier covered in far more detail on her blog

Individual projects at the end of the book use a line-drawing step-by-step style which is potentially much more useful, and I may find myself referring back to these. But this is really no more useful than all the scattered hints in specific vintage pattern directions that I have already - I was hoping for a central reference source.

Overall, I'm not sure I'd recommend this for the novice, while the expert will probably own other books covering this material already. I think the target market is the home sewer who already knows how to make her own clothes using modern techniques but wants to 'convert to vintage', while the pattern line is aimed at those who are happy to flaunt their curves (and their tattoos!) I can probably learn from this book with study of the details of the projects and I'm hoping the section on fitting will be useful, as currently I can't even see most fitting problems until they're pointed out to me. But for the stuff I actually need to look up, I suspect I'm going to end up using help from a wide range of other sources as previously... including the author's own (free) website....
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2013 9:24 PM BST

Talking About Cakes (Penguin handbooks)
Talking About Cakes (Penguin handbooks)
by Margaret Bates
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book on cakes, 1 May 2011
An invaluable cookery book (our secondhand paperback copy has been worn to death in only a couple of years) with a multitude of well-tested traditional recipes - plus information on such useful subjects as how to make your own marzipan for a Simnel cake, etc. These recipes are practical, they work, they taste very good, and they come surrounded by entertaining discourse and good advice: Margaret Bates not only knows her subject, she writes well.

A rich source of material for the traditional English tea-time spread.

Stitch in Time: Knitting and Crochet Patterns of the 1920's, '30s and '40s
Stitch in Time: Knitting and Crochet Patterns of the 1920's, '30s and '40s
by Jane Waller
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars My top source of knitting patterns, 29 April 2011
I acquired a copy of this book by chance (it was being thrown away from a collection of second-hand books on the grounds that the dust-jacket was damaged and it was therefore unsaleable - little did they, or I, know that second-hand copies of this out-of-print volume were changing hands for silly money!) but it rapidly became one of my most treasured possessions. Almost every pattern in the book is so desirable that it's hard to decide which to knit next; the main trouble is finding wool fine enough to do justice to the draping of the period designs. Alas, the hints on modernising at the back of the book, naturally enough, refer to 1970s-era yarn brands that are now 'vintage' in their own right....

The somewhat raunchy 1970s model poses are, frankly, most unflattering and don't inspire me with any desire to reproduce the garments illustrated; fortunately the original photographs from the magazine patterns as published are included as well, and these are much more attractive. You have to be reasonably 'period-sized' to wear these patterns as they only come in a single size, although having said that I've actually had to reduce a couple of them - the model in the photo certainly doesn't look as though she boasts a 38" bust, but that's what the pattern diagram specifies. (One of the great things about these knitting patterns is that most of them come with a diagram indicating the shape and measurements of each piece listed: I wish modern patterns did that.)

As a bonus you get to see the articles and advertisements included alongside the actual patterns on the magazine pages, sighing over Errol Flynn's latest film, giving recipes for cakes and puddings, or advising on children's health: some of the extras are useful and all of them are entertaining. The historical overview at the start of the book is fascinating as well as educational, and the reprinted 1930s 'hints and tips' articles at the back of the book (not to mention the metric conversion tables for old crochet hook and knitting needle sizes) are invaluable.

I haven't seen a copy of the recent reprint, which I gather includes 'graded' sizes and a slightly different selection of patterns. This edition contains 126 indexed patterns (plus a few more which turn out to have escaped the index when you try to locate them there!) whereas the new edition apparently has only sixty, presumably due to the wider range of sizes, and I'm slightly worried by the Amazon reviews that mention errors in the patterns (again presumably due to the new size ranges introduced), so I feel I'm probably better off with my treasured first edition. I confess to being tempted by the forthcoming Volume 2, though, which promises fresh patterns extending into the 1950s....

practical knitting illustrated
practical knitting illustrated
by margaret murray and jane koster
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really useful book of practical knitting, 28 April 2011
The book advertises itself as "The Key to hundreds of garments you can make yourself", which is at once slightly misleading - in fact, it only contains a handful of adult patterns, all of which are based on the same fairly basic designs - and an indication of its real utility: at the back of the book are four invaluable sections on 'Ringing the Changes' (in stitch pattern, in size, in colour and in shape) which tell you how to ALTER designs to your own requirements. It doesn't have to be the designs in this book: the material is equally applicable to any modern (or period) pattern.

Ever wanted a reference list of fancy stitches? Here are detailed instructions for several dozen classified into different types, with life-size photos of the result, details of when and where on the garment they are best used, what multiples of stitch number they can be applied to, whether they produce a tighter or looser tension than stocking stitch - all accompanied by charming little woodcuts showing the effect of applying these variations over part or all of the rather plain garments given earlier in the book.

Ever wanted to know how to substitute a V-neck collar for a polo neck... or a square neck, or a crew neck? Here are planned-out scale diagrams on squared paper showing exactly when to start the decreases, how wide the opening should be before adding a border, and whether the front armhole should be longer than the back (yes for V-neck, no for round necks).

Ever wanted to know how and where to alter a pattern to make it bigger or smaller? Here are directions on how to allow for a larger bust without widening the rest of the garment, how to make a long sleeve out of a short-sleeved pattern and vice versa, and rule-of-thumb measurements for minimum armhole depth, shoulder width etc. for men, women, and children of various ages.

And then there are suggestions on colour contrast: calculating how much wool of each colour will be required, patterns for diagonal and textured stripes and checks, and recommendations on 'tipping' welts, pockets, borders etc. in contrasting wool to eke out the main colour, while the "A.B.C of Knitting and Crochet" at the beginning of the book comprises a clearly illustrated and basic alphabetical guide to everything from casting-on to 'zipp fasteners'.

Essentially, this book was designed to cover everything the average knitter would need to know in order to 'do it yourself' without access to any commercial patterns at all. The actual patterns are dated (and not particularly attractive even to someone like me who likes 'vintage' style: this is basic household stuff rather than fancy fashion-magazine creations), but the basic information on everything down to the recommended sizes of needles for different thicknesses of wool - and the estimated quantities of each weight for different styles of garment - is invaluable. This really is a reference book of practical knitting far more useful than any modern magazine.

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